Martina Devlin

Friday 1 August 2014

Martina Devlin: Wallace more suited to being in episode of 'The Sopranos' than a member of the Dail

Published 08/10/2012|05:00

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I WONDER if Mick Wallace thinks he's living inside an episode of 'The Sopranos'. Perhaps in his imagination he's 'The Dude' Wallace -- an unconventional character who thumbs his nose at the status quo and likes to do things his way.

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Even when his way means blurring the lines between what's right and wrong, proper and improper, shady and squeaky clean. And if he's caught, he probably reckons he can give a wink, toss those peroxide waves, and get away with it. As, to date, he has.

Except in the world of ' The Sopranos' the law of omerta generally keeps grubby little secrets tucked away, out of sight. Whereas in Wallace-land, he blabs about his exploits himself.

For a man with the swagger of someone who clearly sees himself as a dude, the TD has rather a lot of dirty laundry. An entire hamper full of it. And it keeps on spilling out.

Take his interview on Marian Finucane's radio show on Saturday, when he admitted to using loaded innuendo to "persuade" a debtor to pay up. Scare tactics, by anybody's standards.

The Wexford TD told how he had a word in somebody's ear, insinuating that he had employed a "hitman" -- Wallace's description -- to collect an unpaid bill from a fellow developer. Presumably terrified, the building contractor who owed Wallace €25,000 came to a rapid settlement with him, suddenly finding most of the cash.

How do we know about this? Wallace recounted the story in a 2005 interview with 'Business and Finance' magazine, six years before he was elected to the Dail. Not only did he find nothing wrong with such behaviour, he crowed about it. When the interview resurfaced recently, and Finucane raised it with him, Wallace told her how he had run into a debt collector in a pub and had asked him to outline his cash recovery technique.

The debt collector told Wallace that for a fee -- in this case, a fifth of what was due -- he would pay a visit to the debtor's house at 8pm or 9pm and knock on his door. Wallace said the debt collector told him: "I'd put my foot in the door and I'd have a gun with me and I'd give him seven days to pay -- and generally they pay."

Fascinating, we can hear Wallace thinking, cocooned inside his ' Sopranos' fantasy -- and he sent a heavy hint to the contractor who owed him money that he could expect a visit from a hitman.

In the magazine interview, and again on the radio show, Wallace insisted he would never have sent a pistol-packing debt collector to the contractor's door.

But in whose world view, outside of a mafioso's, is it acceptable even to plant a seed of fear that somebody should put their hand in their pocket while they still have a hand to do it?

"I only used him for leverage but it worked," Wallace told 'Business and Finance'. Does that mean we should simply regard threats of violence as a useful way of helping people to prioritise their bill-payment plans?

Any which way you look at this episode, it stinks. The whiff must be burrowing its way into every nook and cranny of Leinster House.

Something else reeks, too. The fact that Wallace can continue to serve as a member of Dail Eireann. Unless a TD is certified insane, declared bankrupt or jailed for six months or more, the people of Ireland are stuck with that deputy until a general election is called.

Wallace never should have been elected. He demeans our national parliament by his presence there. He debased it even before we heard about his 'Sopranos'-inspired business dealings.

Even he -- even he -- must realise he has betrayed his constituents. Even he -- even he -- must understand that a deputy is charged with making the law and upholding it; a role that sits uneasily on the shoulders of a man who thinks nothing of suggesting a gun-toting heavy is about to enforce debt payment.

Even he -- even he -- must see the irony in the fact he was found to owe €2.1m to the tax authorities, and met with civilised treatment. A repayment schedule was put in place. There were no threats about swimming with the fishes.

Indeed, Wallace himself acknowledges it will take 87 years of service as a backbencher before the debt is cleared at the agreed rate of half his salary. In other words, he's not good for the money.

A splash of colour in the Dail? A dude whose unconventional appearance shakes up the establishment? I think not. Neither in his judgment, his methods, nor his code of ethics is this man an asset to public life.

Instead, Wallace continues to live down to standards as low-slung as his jeans.

Irish Independent

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